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Computerized Investing > December 1, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Note

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by Joe Lan, CFA

$550; $150 with contract

A device designed to be a hybrid between a phone and a tablet.

The Samsung Galaxy Note is a unique offering from Samsung. Although it is classified as a phone, it is really designed to be a hybrid between a phone and a tablet, aptly nicknamed by many in the industry as a “phablet.” The Note was the first of its kind and really had no competitors, as the “phablet” marketplace was nonexistent before the Note’s release. The phone offers a screen size that is larger than any phone, but smaller than any tablet. It also comes with top-of-the-line hardware and runs on the Android operating system.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Note has a massive 5.3-inch super AMOLED screen. As I stated a few weeks ago in the Samsung Galaxy S III review, Samsung has never been afraid to push the boundaries with screen size, though the Note is on a completely new level. Although the phone can still be comfortably held in one hand to make calls, any functions of the phone that require users to input commands using the touch screen require two hands. The phone fits in a pocket, but it is not very comfortable. It may be that I am simply not used to having such a large device in my pocket, and it may feel more natural over time. However, my first impression is that the phone is very tight in my front pocket, especially if I am sitting down.

Corning’s Gorilla Glass covers the front of the phone. Like all new phones, the entire glass front is a touch screen. There are four buttons at the bottom, which perform functions such as open the settings, return to the Home screen, go back to the previous screen and open up the search tool. The back of the phone is slightly different than other Samsung Galaxy phones. Samsung Galaxy phones normally have a smooth plastic back cover, but the Note’s back has a leather-like feel. The camera and the phone’s speakers are also on the back.

Hardware

Newer smartphones all have similar top-of-the-line hardware and the Samsung Galaxy Note is no different, offering a dual core 1.5 GHz processor for the U. S. version, essentially the same processor as the Samsung Galaxy S III. The phone also comes standard with 1 GB of random access memory (RAM) and 16 GB of internal storage. The phone provides an expandable micro SD slot that can hold memory cards up to 64 GB in size. In addition, there is an 8 megapixel main camera on the back and a 2 megapixel camera on the front of the phone that is mainly intended to be used for video conference calls.

Performance

With all the high-end hardware, it comes as no surprise that the phone runs quickly and smoothly for the most part. Switching between applications is also fast, with no noticeable lag. The phone comes with 4G capability, so browsing the Web is also a breeze.

The phone runs on Android 4.0, nicknamed Ice Cream Sandwich, along with Samsung’s TouchWiz, which is Samsung’s own touch-user interface. In essence, Samsung installs TouchWiz on its phones to make the Android operating system more user-friendly. Although I have no qualms with the added ease that TouchWiz provides, it does require a substantial amount of memory, and certain menial tasks such as opening email or typing can lag. However, the same is true with most Android phones since Android is an “open-source” operating system and most phone manufacturers try to implement their own improvements. These improvements always use additional phone resources.

Features and Applications

The S Pen that comes with the Note is meant for quick note-taking and fast edits to photos, pictures or maps. The phone comes with an app called S Memo, which is designed specifically for that task. For instance, when using S Memo, users are able to write notes directly with the S Pen or by using their fingers. In addition, you can insert an image, such as a photo or even a map. Once an image has been inserted, you are able to draw and take notes directly on the image. I am generally not a fan of apps that come preinstalled on new phones, other than apps such as Google Maps and Gmail, but this particular app is very useful.

With that said, though the S Pen works on the main touch screen, you cannot actually use the S Pen to hit any of the bottom four phone buttons. Users who use the S Pen will find themselves shifting from the S Pen to their fingers when hitting the bottom four keys, which are used very often. I’ve only tested this phone for a few days, but I can see this becoming an annoying issue, which eventually may make me ignore the S Pen completely.

Browsing the Internet, watching video and playing games are the best part of having a phone with such a large display. I tested a few popular apps and they all work well on the Note.

Conclusion

The general feedback on phone and tablet hybrids such as the Samsung Galaxy Note is mixed. Certain users love the large display and others hate it. I tend to be in the former group, but I usually have an affinity toward larger screens. In fact, since I started testing the Samsung Galaxy Note, I have been hit with a case of screen-envy, and my phone screen size is not small by any standard. (I use the Samsung Galaxy S III that comes with a 4.8-inch screen.)

Samsung’s Galaxy Note (and now Note 2) has sold millions of phones, so it is quite apparent that there is high demand for it. I recommend testing the phone out at a store before purchasing, however.

Pros

  • Large 5.3-inch screen
  • Note-taking and drawing made easy with S Pen and S Memo app
  • Padded compartment
  • Rugged design

Cons

  • Too large to fit comfortably in pocket
  • S Pen doesn’t function on main buttons

Samsung Galaxy Note

Around $150 with contract and $550 without ($446 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

Joe Lan, CFA is a former financial analyst for AAII.


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